Chris Cooke, 65, was at the Ballina RSL Club with his wife, daughter and 19-month-old grandson when he decided to take his grandson for a walk in his pram to look at the river.
Chris Cooke, 65, was at the Ballina RSL Club with his wife, daughter and 19-month-old grandson when he decided to take his grandson for a walk in his pram to look at the river. Marc Stapelberg

Moment of panic as rescuer saves boy from river

A BALLINA man has been hailed a hero after he saved a toddler from drowning on Sunday afternoon.

Chris Cooke, 65, was at the Ballina RSL Club with his wife, daughter and 19-month-old grandson when he decided to take his grandson for a walk in his pram to look at the river.

As they walked along the wharf they watched a man fishing with his two young children.

When the father caught a fish, Mr Cooke and his grandson went in for a closer look.

"The next minute, the little fella, he would have only been about two years old, tripped and fell into the water," he said.

"By the time I got there, he was just gone.

"I knew Max (my grandson) was safe and strapped into his pram so I just dove straight into the water, clothes and all. It was instinct.

"But for a split second I couldn't find him... it felt like forever... when I finally grabbed him I brought him up to the surface.

"He was in shock.

"I sat with him for a while and made sure he was okay, he was crying, his father was cuddling him."

Mr Cooke didn't sleep much on Sunday night, thinking what could have happened to the little boy if he wasn't there to rescue him.

"The water was freezing cold," he said.

"Another couple of seconds and you wouldn't have found him.

"He tide was going out, he could have been washed under the pontoon... anything could have happened."

With the little boy safely back in his father's arms, Mr Cooke took Max and walked back into the RSL, dripping wet and cold, and asked the staff to page his wife.

"I said to the staff, 'I just saved a little kid that fell into the river, so I'm all wet', and they said, 'we can see that'," he said.

"They shouted me a few beers, which was nice.

"I didn't have time to think about it... anyone would have done the same thing as me.

"But I can't help but wonder whether there should be a railing on that wharf, or a gate, because kids just move so quickly.

"It could have been so much worse."



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